CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Better Business Bureau is warning older adults nationwide about the reemergence of a telephone scam first seen in 2008 that preys on grandparents who think they are helping their grandchildren who are in distress.
BBB offices across the country have received reports about grandparents who wired money to what they thought was one of their grandchildren for an emergency situation. However, they actually wired money to a con artist in Canada who scammed them out of thousands of dollars.
The grandparents scam works like this -- the grandparent receives a frantic telephone call in the middle of the night from someone whom they believe is one of their grandchildren. The "grandchild" begins the call with "Grandma, it's me" and then explains that they are travelling in Canada and have been arrested or involved in an auto accident, and needs the grandparent to wire them money to post bail, to pay legal fees, to pay for damages, or to pay for medical expenses.
The "grandchild" pleads with the grandparents not to tell his or her parents and asks that they wire thousands of dollars for reasons including posting bail, repairing the grandchild's car, covering lawyer’s fees, or even paying hospital bills for a person the grandchild injured in a car accident.
While hundreds of older adults have reported receiving calls about the scam without falling prey to it, many others have been victimized. One well-meaning grandmother wired $19,000 to scammers, thinking she was helping a grandchild who had been in an auto accident. The reason this scam is successful is that too often people get caught up in the false sense of urgency and they end up making emotional, instead of logical, decisions.
"This scam is despicable because it preys on the emotions of older adults who are trying to help their grandchildren," said BBB President Tom Bartholomy. "The key to avoiding this scam is to remain calm despite the ‘emergency’ nature of the call and to verify that there is a real emergency by contacting other family members before wiring money."
Law enforcement officials are not certain how perpetrators are obtaining telephone numbers for so many older adults across the country. Scammers are most likely calling random numbers until they reach an older adult and then they pose as a grandchild who needs urgent financial help.
If you receive a telephone call that uses a distressed loved-one tactic, the BBB advises you to verify the story with other family members before taking action. A major "red flag" that the call may be a scam is if the caller asks you to wire money via Western Union or Moneygram to Canada or other foreign country.
For more information on common scams and advice on avoiding consumer fraud, please visit www.bbb.org.